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John F. Kennedy

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Whether you knew him as, John, Johnny, Jack, or even just by his initials JFK, John Fitzgerald Kennedy is a well known president and has not been forgotten. He came from a successful family, made a name for himself, and did things never done before. Kennedy was the youngest person, at the age of forty-three, to ever be elected president and the first Catholic president as well. (“Kennedy, John F.”) Kennedy’s short time in office did not go unnoticed, he still ranks among the most beloved American presidents of all time. (“John F. Kennedy.”)

Before becoming President, Kennedy was always well off. He grew up in a wealthy and very successful family who wasn’t hurt by the Great Depression like most families were. (“Kennedy, John F.” 850) His grandfather, John E. Fitzgerald, was a skilled politician who served as a congressman and as the mayor of Boston. (“John F. Kennedy.”) His father was a successful banker who went on to a career as Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and as an Ambassador to Great Britain. (Coleman) It wasn’t only his family’s influence that led to his success but some of his own doing as well. After graduating from Harvard, Kennedy enlisted in the United States Navy where he earned his title of being a war hero. He was assigned to command a patrol torpedo boat in the South Pacific. His patrol torpedo boat was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer, despite his injuries, he led the survivors through the waters to safety. (Coleman) Kennedy underwent back surgeries for his injuries but he didn’t let that slow him down. (” John F. Kennedy.”) His family’s political success and his war hero status both helped in his political success.

In 1946, Kennedy ran for United States House of Representatives, and won easily with his war hero status, the help of his father’s money, and family connections. In 1952, he won a seat in the United States Senate, and in 1958 was reelected to the Senate. During his time as a senator, he became bored dealing with mostly Massachusetts issues, international issues is what drew his attention. He was well known for his anticommunist views, and wanting more military spending to contain the spread of Soviet power. Two years after his reelection to the Senate, he won the Democratic nomination for President. (Coleman) It is fair to say that his family’s successes and contacts played a substantial roll in his successes.

Soon after he entered the Senate Kennedy knew he wanted an even higher office. In 1957, he lost the chance to run alongside presidential hopeful, Adlai Stevenson, as his vice president, to Estes Kefauver. This defeat was by only a small margin but lead him to the conclusion that he wanted to run for president next term. (“American President: John F. Kennedy.”)

Kennedy used his superior organization and financial resources to his advantage and beat his main opponent, Hubert Humphrey in the 1960 Democratic primaries. (“John F. Kennedy.”) The two fought it out in thirteen primaries. Kennedy’s money was no match for Hubert, especially in West Virginia where it is legal to pay workers and voters to show up to the polls. (“American President: John F. Kennedy.”)

On July 13, 1960 the Democratic party nominated John F. Kennedy as its candidate for President. (“Life of John F. Kennedy.”) Kennedy ran for president against, and defeated his Republican opponent, previous Vice President, Richard M. Nixon. (“Kennedy, John F.”) After Kennedy defeated Lyndon B. Johnson at the Democratic National Convention he then chose Lyndon B. Johnson, Texas senator for his running mate. This was a strategic move in hopes it would help win over the South. (“American President: John F. Kennedy.”)

Kennedy was known for his favoritism of conventional forces, calling for more military money, being anticommunist, and wanting to stop the spread of Soviet Power. In his 1960 presidential campaign he criticized the Eisenhower administration. He thought the Eisenhower administration put too much emphasis on nuclear forces for defense and put conventional forces on the back burner. Kennedy criticized that they were letting the Soviet Union gain an advantage in the production of nuclear missile forces, and said we were on the wrong side of the “missile gap”. Kennedy then pledged that he would build up the United States military so they could be deployed and meet a wide range of threats that could come our way. (Coleman)

The Kennedy v. Nixon election was the first to have nationally televised debates. Kennedy was up for a challenge debating against Nixon because he was an experienced and skilled debater. While debating, Kennedy managed to remain and appear calm and relaxed where Nixon on the other hand appeared be more tense. Also, only being forty- three, Kennedy appeared to be young, lively, and heathy to the American people in comparison to his older, seemingly lifeless opponent. (“John F. Kennedy.”) Polls taken after the debate showed that those who had listened to the debates on the radio thought that Nixon had won, where on the other hand, the television audience, a larger number, was more impressed with Kennedy. Over all, the television debates gave a boost to Kennedy’s campaign. On November 8th, Kennedy won both the popular and electoral votes. He won the popular vote by a margin of only 120,000 votes of the 68.8 million ballots that were cast. He won the electoral college by a large margin, receiving 303 votes to Nixon’s 219. His young fresh face and can do attitude won over the hearts of many Americans. (“American President: John F. Kennedy.”)

Kennedy’s cabinet selections played a roll in his success, and in turn his popularity among Americans. Kennedy appointed Dean Rusk as Secretary of State, Robert Strange McNamara as Secretary of Defense, Clarence Douglas Dillon as Secretary of the Treasury, and Robert Francis Kennedy as Attorney General. These men, along with others, made up Kennedy’s cabinet. As Secretary of State some of Dean’s accomplishments include his participation in negotiations for the Test Ban Treaty of 1963 and his input at the conference regarding the Berlin situation. Robert McNamara, despite being registered as a Republican was still honored the position of Secretary of Defense. While in this position McNamara enlarged his staff and moved, to centralize decision-making authority, this created a more centralized civilian control military.

McNamara also created both the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Defense Supply Agency to help with the organization and operations of the three military branches. Clarence Dillion, despite his Republican background, is still considered to be the most influential member of Kennedy’s economic advisors. When serving as the Secretary of the Treasury Dillion convinced President Kennedy that the nation’s greatest economic problem was the balance of payments deficit. Robert Kennedy, who John F. Kennedy appointed as Attorney General was not only his previous campaign manager, but his brother. Robert was his closest aide and was included decisions made about foreign and domestic policy issues. Robert’s work with civil rights also lead to the Civil Rights Bill passing in 1964. Although Kennedy’s cabinet was not limited to these men, they all played a roll in his success. (“American President: John F. Kennedy.”)

Mr. Kennedy represented the Democratic Party as the 35th President of The United States of America. In his inaugural speech Kennedy laid out his views and intentions for the future of the country which he was now the leader of. He titled his intentions as the New Frontier program. It included a tax cut, an increase in funding for space exploration and further movement with civil rights issues. (“Kennedy, John F.”) Kennedy’s focus was on a better future, he wanted to move forward by improving education, employment and exploring new discoveries in science. Kennedy wanted to fight the spread of Communism by instilling the idea of world wide freedom and democracy. (“Life of John F. Kennedy.”) Also during his inaugural speech Kennedy said “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”, this became a famous quote of his. (“Kennedy, John F.”)

Legislative passage through Congress of Kennedy’s domestic program, the New Frontier, proved to be difficult. Although there was a slight Democratic majority in Congress, not all of the Democrats always backed Kennedy. Many of the Southern Democrats were leery and suspicious of the Northeast native’s intentions. Kennedy had no option but to compromise with his legislative program multiple times.

When dealing with the recession, Kennedy worked to lower taxes, increase the minimum wage, protect the unemployed, and focus on the business and housing sectors, all in hope to stimulate the economy. Social programs including, federal aid to education, medical care for the elderly, urban mass transit, a Department of Urban Affairs, and regional development in Appalachia, were also proposed to Congress by the President. But due to his poor support by Congress he only managed to increase the minimum wage and make only small changes to taxes and civil rights. Kennedy’s proposal for a major medical program for the elderly was not passed by Congress nor was his proposal of Department of Urban Affairs, because Southern Democrats feared Kennedy would have an African-American as first secretary. (“American President: John F. Kennedy.”)

The most prominent domestic issue that Kennedy was faced with was, that of civil rights. (“American President: John F. Kennedy.”) Kennedy was hampered by the Southern Democrats in Congress who were against allowing black citizens to have civil rights. (“John F. Kennedy.”) This put him in a position where he concentrated more on enforcing existing civil rights laws than on passing new ones. (“American President: John F. Kennedy.”) That did not mean Kennedy was opposed to the forward movement of civil rights. In September of 1962, Kennedy sent his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy to Mississippi. Robert was sent to use the National Guard along with federal marshals to defend and escort James Meredith, the first African American student enrolled at the University of Mississippi. (“John F. Kennedy.”)

This was all necessary because Ross Barnett the Governor of Mississippi, defied federal court rulings that allowed Meredith to enroll at the university. Even with the National Guard and federal marshals there, a violent riot that injured hundreds and killed two still took place. Kennedy’s original plan was to wait until his second term before sending a civil rights bill to Congress, when he could afford to split his party. (“American President: John F. Kennedy.”) But come the end of 1963, soon after the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Had a Dream” speech, Kennedy couldn’t put it off any longer and finally sent a civil rights bill to Congress. It eventually passed as the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and was one of the last acts of his presidency. (“John F. Kennedy.”)

Although Kennedy was only in office for a short time before being assassinated, his administration was very active and he had to make many major decisions regarding foreign affairs during his time in office. Kennedy was sworn in as president and was welcomed with immediate conflict. The concern with the spread of communism was ever so present as tensions with the Cold War increased. Early in his presidency Kennedy made a major decision to back the Central Intelligence Agency in the invasion of Cuba. The plan was to invade the island of Cuba and over throw its leader, Fidel Castro. The invasion, known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion failed miserably and made the relationship between Cuba and the United States suffer for many years. (“Kennedy, John F.”) On April 17, 1961 the invasion failed, becoming what is considered Kennedy’s first embarrassment as president. (“American President: John F. Kennedy.”)

JFK did not let his failure with The Bay of Pigs get to him, he had no choice as the tensions of the Cold War increased. Soon after The Bay of Pigs, Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union in 1961, ordered the construction of the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall, which became a major symbol of the Cold War was put up to separate and prevent emigration from Soviet-dominated East Germany to West Germany, which was Americas ally. (“John F. Kennedy.”) Kennedy’s response to the building of the wall was to reinforce Berlin’s troops and increase the United States military strength. (“John F. Kennedy.”) This divide of Berlin lead to what some would call the greatest crisis of the Kennedy administration, the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. (Beschloss)

In response to hearing that Soviet Union had sent nuclear missiles to Cuba, Kennedy ordered a blockade of Cuba, rather than launching a military attack on the Soviet missile bases, like many advisors recommended. (“John F. Kennedy.”) With the blockade in place Kennedy demanded Khrushchev remove the missiles from Cuba. Khrushchev refused to back down leaving the world waiting anxiously on the brink of nuclear war. After a week of waiting nervously Khrushchev agreed to compromise and remove the missiles, only if America would agreed to remove its missiles from Turkey. Kennedy agreed to the compromise and ended the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Coleman) This lead to the negation of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with Great Britain and the Soviet Union, one of Kennedy’s proudest accomplishments and helped ease the tensions of the Cold War. (Beschloss)

Although Kennedy avoided the missile crisis his work was far from over. In 1961 the United States signed a treaty pledging to help South Vietnam fight against communist North Vietnam. As the Vietnam War escalated America split into two sides, one that supported sending troops over seas and the other, who protested against American involvement in other country’s conflict, loud and publicly. Kennedy supported the South Vietnamese but he stopped short of authorizing combat operations. Where Kennedy stood on The United States involvement in the Vietnam War was unclear after his assignation and was then in the hands of his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson(“Kennedy, John F.”)

Kennedy also preached activism. He capitalized on this by creating the Peace Corps and the Alliance for Progress. Kennedy created The Peace Corps, and organization that still exists today, in 1961 by executive order. Peace Corps volunteers reached 170,000 who served in 135 countries by the end of the century. (“John F. Kennedy.”) Volunteers from the Peace Corps are sent to different countries all over the world to help those struggling.(“Kennedy, John F.”) The Alliance for Progress was created by Kennedy in hopes of avoiding poverty and the spread of communism in Latin America. (“John F. Kennedy.”) It was an organization dedicated to sending economic aid to Latin American countries. (“Kennedy, John F.”) Kennedy believed that this would increase and strengthen economic ties with Latin America. (“John F. Kennedy.”)

Kennedy also was excited and determined for the United States to catch the Soviet Union in its space program. To advance in space exploration, Kennedy asked Congress to approve more than 22 billion dollars for Project Apollo. He said, “No nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space.” Getting the funding for Project Apollo, which had the goal of landing an American man on the moon before the end of the decade, was the first step to beating the Soviet Union and winning the race to space. (“Life of John F. Kennedy.”) Although Kennedy did not live to see Neil Armstrong land on the moon in July 1969, he still played a huge roll in making it happen. (“American President: John F. Kennedy.”)

Not only was Kennedy the youngest man to be elected, he was the youngest to die. On November 22, 1963 John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated. (Beschloss) While he was in Texas to give a speech, Kennedy was shot riding in a motorcade, in the back seat of a convertible car. Lee Harvey Oswald, who was a communist supporter, was arrested and charged with Kennedy’s assassination. (“Kennedy, John F.”) The nation was in shock, hundreds of thousands gathered in Washington for his funeral and millions watched on television. The memory of John Fitzgerald Kennedy is implanted in the minds and hearts of millions and he will never be forgotten as he goes down in history as one of the most beloved American presidents of all time. (“Life of John F. Kennedy.”)

Works Cited

“American President: John F. Kennedy.” Miller Center. Ed. David Coleman. Miller Center, Web. 03 Jan. 2013.

Beschloss, Michael, and Hugh Sidey. “John F. Kennedy.” The White House. White House Historical Association, 2009. Web. 03 Jan. 2013.

Coleman, David G. “Kennedy, John Fitzgerald.” Americans at War. Ed. John P. Resch. Vol. 4: 1946-Present. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 97-99. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 15 Oct. 2012.

” John F. Kennedy.” 2012. Biography.com 15 Oct 2012, 12:12 http://www.biography.com/

“Kennedy, John F.” U*X*L Encyclopedia of U.S. History. Sonia Benson, Daniel E. Brannen, Jr., and Rebecca Valentine. Ed. Lawrence W. Baker and Sarah Hermsen. Vol. 5. Detroit: UXL, 2009. 850-855. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 15 Oct. 2012.

“Life of John F. Kennedy.” JFK Presidential Library & Museum. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.

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